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FPIF: Making Peace or Fueling War in Africa

Authors: Daniel Volman, and William Minter
March 13, 2009

At the end of President Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony, civil rights leader Rev. Joseph Lowery invoked the hope of a day "when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors." No one expects such a utopian vision to materialize any time soon. But both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have spoken eloquently of the need to emphasize diplomacy over a narrow military agenda. In her confirmation hearing, Clinton stressed the need for "smart power," perhaps inadvertently echoing Obama's opposition to the invasion of Iraq as a "dumb war." Even top U.S. military officials, such as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, have warned against overly militarizing U.S. foreign policy.

In practice, such a shift in emphasis is certain to be inconsistent. At a global level, the most immediate challenge to the credibility of change in foreign policy is Afghanistan, where promised troop increases are given little chance of bringing stability and the country risks becoming Obama's "Vietnam." Africa policy is for the most part under the radar of public debate. But it also poses a clear choice for the new administration. Will de facto U.S. security policy toward the continent focus on anti-terrorism and access to natural resources and prioritize bilateral military relations with African countries? Or will the United States give priority to enhancing multilateral capacity to respond to Africa's own urgent security needs?

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